More railroad tips from readers

“Hi Al,

I have really enjoyed the great tips you send out.

I’m building a 12′ by 4′ N scale layout on foam insulation board. The board is held together by lengths of aluminum “L” bars. BTW I got the boards by asking a local home store if they would discount boards that were less than perfect. As I left the worker told me to always ask whenever I saw something that I might want. So next time I went to the cutting section and saw a bunch of ply wood scraps, 2 x 3 etc. Just what I needed for elevated track section. I got my pick for $0.51.

I recently saw mention of a foam cutter and unpacked one I had purchased 5 years ago sold by Avalon or Tippi. They are really a time saver. They come in many different configurations most under $25. I got a battery operated one for $14 and change at AC Moore

Instant Road Bed:
The product has returned to the market under a new name. It is a black two adhesive sides. I found some of the very old stuff that had been sitting out in the garage for years. I was able to rejuvenate it by placing it in the microwave for five minutes. It was in almost a molten state. But worked well after it cooled down a bit. The time in the microwave can vary with the age and loss of adhesiveness.

I had lots of odd lengths of telephone 4 wire wrapped in a shield left over from the rewiring of our home. It is a very inexpensive source of wire even if you have to buy it new from a home improvement store. The shielding also comes in handy.

This is for those of you like me who use the hit or miss approach without a well worked out master plan. We lay out track to fit the space. Drawing the curves can be a challenge. You can get an aid called Mars flexible curve. It is like a snake that takes and keeps the curve you want. So even the most ad hoc one of a kind curve comes out smooth. It has a 18″ ruler on one side and a 45.7 cm on the other. It is great for calculating the needed length of flex track.



“Best tip I ever had was to use leftover ceiling tile for roadbed on my O gauge layout as well as scenery.


“I make ceader trees using different sizes of pine cones and golden rod plants I find in fields. I first paint the golden rod green using cheap spray cans, then glue the small branches to the pine cones. They look just like those in the southeast and look great planted on bluffs and cut throughs.


“Instead of buying prewired power connectors I solder short small wires to track connectors and install them as I initially put down track,after I’m happy with the way I want it I drill small holes between the ties and thread the wires through,I can then make the connections under the table.


“Hey Al! I do love the pic’s! I will send in my pic’s soon, my layout is under construction at the moment, its not as big as the one’s you send me and I’m not doing it the traditional way, my layout has the tyco us1 trucking set incorporated into it ( to keep my 5 year old entertained) these r the pic’s so far!”

Big thank to you Mike for sending those pictures in. Just superb!

Don’t forget to have a peek at the printable buildings.

You just print it out, cut it out, then glue.

Or perhaps you just want to get started on a layout? If that’s the case, this is for you – and at just $9 it’s a real steal too. Won’t last forever though…




58 Responses to More railroad tips from readers





    LEW COOK, U.S.A.

  2. Peter Jones - England says:

    Good lay out Mike, like the greenary at trackside, might use some of your ideas.

  3. David Winter says:

    Excellent pictures.Hope you finish soon.

  4. Jim Volmer Sr says:

    Great looking layout, with some ideas I plan to use on my next build. Finishing up on my present layout, been a long time coming.

    I always heard of using the foam risers to give a different level look to a layout and in these photo’s I can see first hand what a great way to transition the trains to different levels. With my next build I plan to use these instead of a ‘cookie cutout’ style I am presently using.

  5. david says:

    Good all round layout you have made there

  6. Bob says:


    Layout is looking great. I appreciate your efforts to get your son involved in the hobby. The hobby kept me off the streets as a teenager throughout my years to graduation. I never lost my passion for the hobby and I am now renewing and expanding my layout since I have retired. Wishing you and your son much fun and bonding.

  7. David says:

    Great layout. I am planning on putting a road coarse in mine too. I am also am into NASCAR.
    Thanks for the great pictures and ideas.


  8. David Dunning says:

    Al, I am using two of your house plans to kit bash a war time house. These were built in canada to offer affordable housing to returning veterns of WW1. They were a basic house 24′ X24′ built on a 4 foot deep foundation allowing for a crawl space for a furnace. They had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a four piece bathroom. The lots were 40 ft. by 60 ft. The houses still exist, although many have been added too, or torn down and new houses built. My wifes family had one which they raised, addind a full basement and doubling its size. Pictures and construction details will be available shortly if you are interested.
    David D.

  9. Milt says:

    Where do you get the styraform track risers as shown on Mike’s pike. I like your web site.
    Thank you

  10. Mike says:

    Nice one Michael, fancy a trip to the UK to do some track laying and wireing?

  11. Bernie says:

    Love what you are doing and I especially appreciate the “under construction” photos.

  12. Al says:

    Looking forward to seeing those!


  13. Roddy says:

    Good curves can be obtained by using a flexible control cable from a bicycle or car. Lay in positiion and draw round it with a pencil.

  14. Tom Oliver says:

    The only negative I have with all your great photo’s, is that it makes my layout look very poor! Although I’m only part way through it. Great job! And thanks to everyone;s tips. They’re a great help!

  15. John Dutton says:

    Hey Al

    I think your printing percentages for your paper houses are wrong. I think n gauge should be 39%, not 93%.

    Very nice pictures. The foam source is a great lead but you can make your own foam cutters. Once you ‘force’ your local electronics shop to cough up some resistance wire (This is where the resistance comes from, the electronic shop not the wire) you can make lots of cutters for… nothing

    And it is useful to have different size and shaaped cutters.


  16. Dennis says:

    I use blue foam as my table top on my layout. A tool I use for laying out my track curves and easements is an 8 foot length of 1/8th inch masonite cut to 1/2 inch width. Being 8 foot in length I can also mark out the straights. Using Woodland Scenics foam nails I stand the masonite on the narrow edge. I can bend it for curves and lock it in place with the foam nails. Once I have it adjusted to the route I want. I mark on both sides directly to the blue foam with a permanant marker. If I have a diverging route planned via a switch I use another 8 foot length of masonite to right next to the other one. The foam nails join the two pieces together. Then I bend it away at the point where I want the diverging route to occur. Pull the masonite too tight in a curve and it will snap.

  17. Gary says:

    Milt, Woodland Scenics sell the Styrofoam risers in 2% and 4% rise.

  18. paul Otway says:

    Great photos, great tips

  19. Lowell says:

    It’s a beauty! I wish I could do something like that but I have absolutely no creative skills at all.

  20. RUSS says:


  21. I have found that an electric foam cutting tool leaves too hard of an edge on the foam. I now use an old hacksaw blade or a drywall saw that’s used to cut receptical outlet holes in drywall to cut my foam that I previously glued in position. I then finish off the foam with a small rasp to give me the necessary smoothness and contour. It is now ready for painting or plaster after I vacuum-up the spoils. I use the spoils as some of my ground cover in other areas.

  22. Frank says:

    Great pics. I learn so much from the pics and narrative.
    I am rebuilding an HO layout and modeling with a construction theme of quarries ,concrete plants and asphalt plants.
    Can you tell,I was in the business for 50 years and we used the railroads to deliver and receive product. As I progress ,I will send pics.
    Best to all

  23. Stephen Hyk says:

    In one of the pictures, the platform sits in front of Furnace with A/C Coil and piping, also the Water Heater is behind Furnace, Question, If something goes wrong with either the Furnace or W/H how do you get in to repair or replace either if there is a problem. Is the Train Platform moveable??? May have a problem in Future???
    8/30/15. Thanks for all the great ideas for beginners.

  24. Larry B says:

    I just wanted to thank all your members for all the ideas, I’m trying to put together a HO track for my 28 grand children to play with when they come see gramps. I’m old retired and due to my health am not sure how many years this old body has left. If any of your members have any ideas on a fold up portable set up it would be greatly appreciated. Due to my small living space. Also does anyone have any information on buying a cheap steam engine I’ve looked all over internet and best buy for an early 1800 steam engine passenger train is over $200, my small ss check won’t allow me to buy any thing that expensive,that is what me and children want to find. Thanks again for all the great ideas for our ez track and trains.

  25. Harry Kubarek says:


    Great tips for working with foam. Also, I wanted to download the PDF model railroad layouts but it never returned the information to my e-mail. Can you help me out.


  26. Bob says:

    Nice layout Mike..Your little one will sure enjoy it

  27. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    looks like it will be a winner when done. Is it KATO track you are using, if it is you will have no problems with it. I built a N scale the size of a door, 7′ X 30″ in 1994 using Kato track and turnouts with their remote controls, kept it until 2009, never had to clean the track, never had any problems with the performance of my engines, all were Kato,Atlas,ConCor, used no Bachmann due to a bad situation I had with a Bachmann steam engine ( to this day I considered Bachmann as junk). Most of my rolling stock was MTL, ordered thru the MTL monthly release club, Kato passenger cars, and some Atlas and Concor. Sometimes I wish I had never talked myself into going Z scale as they do not have manufacturers of engines with the quality of Kato.

  28. Ken M says:

    Nice looking layout Mike, did you use EZ Track for the entire layout and how are the switches doing on the elevated sections?

  29. Don gator Henry says:

    love using the tyco trucking track. Gator

  30. Art says:

    Like many others here I am rediscovering the hobby at the age of 63 and have started my first layout. I am running 2 separate trains and tracks and am at the point of buying trains. As many have said and I know to be true, this can quickly become a very expensive hobby. My question to the more experienced here is: is it worth it to invest in higher end locos and cars versus buying cheaper “starter sets?” When I look at higher end stuff at stores it looks like one could easily spend more than $200 for a “quality” 3 or 4 car train versus $100 or so for sets that often include track and transformer. Are there brands to avoid? I know that in most things you only “get what you pay for” but as this is so new to me I would appreciate any suggestions/advice anyone would care to offer. I have really enjoyed all of the other comments and have already learned a lot from others’ posts. Thanks in advance!

  31. tom says:

    ON the Bachmann stuff, I started a HO layout a very large dealer told me to stay away from Bachmann track. Believe me he was right. I have some Bachmann and went to KATO what a difference. THX TOM

  32. Luc Bourgoin says:

    I can confirm you have been a collector for quite a long time I see some old Tyco items in your poyos

  33. Larry Cowden says:

    Nice photos and tips from all of you. I noticed some seem to have difficulty laying out large curves on the board. Try drawing your plan to full scale on your computer with a drafting program such as AutoCAD, Sketch UP, or others.
    This gives you the ability to create a plan, change and modify it if needed before you spend time and materials to discover it won’t work. Download your plan to a flash drive. Take the plan to Staples or perhaps a printing shop that prints large format for architects and designers. Lay this out on your board and then lay accordingly.

  34. Cary B says:

    Al, I love the posts, keep them coming. As for Mike’s layout, I love it. The use of the US1 trucking track reminds me of an apartment layout I did in the 80’s. Got the track laid down and was considering using my kids US1 and time came to move and did not complete. I am 68 now and going to do a small HO layout. I have a Lego layout as of now but itching to get some HO done.
    Cary B

  35. Tim says:

    You are doing a great job and I only wish I had a larger room to make a large layout You certainly have great ideas . These are really time consuming, but at the end it really looks great. Nice work and thanks for the tips. Tim

  36. Trickydick says:

    Love your pictures. the roof tile idea for road bed is good but pretty hard to cut and shape. I use grade 60 or coarser sandpaper in 15 x 10 sheets. It is easy to cut to exact curves. Make it about 1/2 inch larger than the track on each side, glue it down, and it makes great looking roadbed. If I knew how to put a picture on here I would show how it looks.

  37. Dave Russell says:

    I have “returned” to the hobby after something like 60 years or so and I want to get started building. I am very interested in the Woodland Scenics Sub Terrain system and would love to hear from anyone who had used it. It seems like a great alternative to the other carpentry solutions. That having been said, I will admit to being a bit fascinated by the challenge of an open bench work layout. Thanks in advance for you help.

  38. Ramsey Arnold says:

    Also returning to hobby after 6 decades. Interested in benchwork of all types. Could be related to layout plan and, of course hobbiests skills and shop availability.
    Simple, plywood or foam core over good frame probably a good start. Considering an L shaped corner layout in a good sized empty bedroom. Will be studying/dreaming about all the choices/ideas. Thanks for the wonderful way this forum shares our hobby. Ramcraft

  39. Steve Collis says:

    After so 6 decades of off and on railway modelling I decided a change was called for. I elected to go for Marklin. What a revelation. Top class quality track, I am using ‘C’ track. The build of the locos is fantastic and to answer one point made by one reader even the starter sets are quality products and consist of standard high class locos, track, and wagons/carriages and they also include a digital controller as the loco is the top of the range MFX digital system. MFX blew my mind when I first used it, place your MFX fitted loco on the track and the control system works out which loco you are using, no digital settings to do. It is also worth noting that there are excellent second hand deals available, try e-bay or Catawiki, the Dutch online auction house, they also have a dedicated US Model Railroad section

    Happy modelling


  40. Chris Jordan says:

    Hi Al look forward each post to what all your excellent punters send in I have moved after 18 years of banging head on roof trusses to a cellar woopy do .I have made a start with boards and in my head the layout I want all now to be transferred ty paper diagram but have 2 tracks 50 foot long up and running and am adding sections as I go maybe the wrong way to build a model railway but it suits me. I have been unable to concentrate fully on this NO Eight Attempt in various houses and flats in different parts of the world because of family issues that keep getting in the way of me playing trains with added realism haha keep up the good work and as and when ishall attempt to send some photos of start to where I am up to now cheers chris Jordan

  41. Sal Vivo says:

    Is there anybody or some where to purchase an O guagecurved or straight Winter type ( Lionel Polar Express #6-37837 type) of tunnel? Can`t find them anywhere & I`m new to the hobby & not to good building one would rather pay someone 45-$60 dollars U.S. to have one? Any thoughtswould be greatly appreciated…Thanks!- Sal 🙂

  42. Jason K. Kirby says:

    I had a 4×8 switching yard, I enjoy switching.

  43. Bill Mahan says:

    To the retired gentleman looking for an inexpensive passenger set, try train swap meets. I just picked one up used in original cartons for $50.

  44. Dug Sitowski says:

    To add my 2 cents worth, here’s a little money saving tip I’ve used for years. Rather than buying gloss AND flat/matte paint of the same color just buy the gloss and stir in some talc baby powder and Voila! matte paint. Don’t know exactly how that works but it does and it goes through an air brush well too. I also pick up old broken 35mm cameras and disassemble them saving the tiny screws, gears, springs and other small interesting bits, paint and weather them and strew them around an engine house, garage or in a gondola for some pretty realistic looking “junk”. Dug from New Mexico.

  45. Allan Jelinek says:

    Very nice job

  46. Manny Fernandez Jr. says:

    I love all the tips! But I have 2 questions First I’m building a N scale layout. what solder iron would work the best for soldering the track? Second how do I wire up a turntable?

  47. Lewis M. Brumberg Jr. says:

    A lot of information was available through your pictures. Very nicely done.

  48. Joe davison says:

    AL, only been “aboard” about a week or so, but very much impressed with the site and league of contributors…..dozens of great tips garnered so adhering to the Dream, Plan, Build mantra. will just but up a simple couple turnout loop layout for the grandkids (10 & counting) for the Holidays and begin the project in earnest in Jan. have the Dream part down, working on the Planning, plenty of time to build

    Come from an old RR family. father was a Conductor/Yard Foreman on the PRR for 40 years, and it his old set from the 40s/50s of O gauge 31/27 tubular track a I am working with. Each unboxed piece brings back memories. During college and before Law School I worked the rails as well. Doubt it still stands, but was at the time the youngest qualified conductor at 20 yrs, 2 months for the Harrisburg to Philly to Newark, NJ PRR line. That was a lot of signal positions and dispatch towers to learn to heart. Did a lot of Barn Repair switching stock work usually on the graveyard in winter which was a treat. Knuckle couplings I could handle, those Air Pressure break couplings were a challenge each time you had to hammer them free. Hence, I choose law.

    think I will work on a freight theme, will keep you posted, this could be a long strange trip given my lack of artistic skills. But the train never moves until the Conductor says go.

    PS. met my wife on the train. I was the Flagman doing tickets that day, punched hers, got her phone #, and 45 years later she still tolerates me so.

  49. Brad Bourne says:

    The question about a fold-up table. Years ago, out o necessity, I used a folding ping-pong table for train table. Was strong enough, and when folded, had about 8 inches between the two halves. Could be put away in small space.

  50. Jacques Zanin says:

    I like that some one else is using USA trucking set with there trains I also used it and have not seen another person. good to know that great minds think alike.

  51. Robert Brady says:

    I’m a happy camper AL,have i missed D Dave lately?

  52. John Ferrantino says:

    New to this group. I really enjoy the emails, tips and ideas. Back to model railroad layouts after a 50 year hiatus. Having a blast….like being a kid again!

  53. been playing with my ho train for many years. gonna get into expanding by a raised track and your pics and tips gave me great how to do it. gonna get my cam out and take pics as I labor along.

  54. lynn steinman says:

    thanx I love looking at trains

  55. Jackie says:

    One of the things I like about this hobby is the willingness to help to others. But there is a problem. Many people are asking for help in the comments section of the newsletter when they should be using the FORUM!!!!! The forum is a new FREE service by Mr. Alastair Lee, the same person that is bringing you the newsletter. So use the forum, not the newsletter to ask your questions and hopefully get many answers. And it is FREE!
    So quit asking questions here in the newsletter and use the comments section for positive remarks about the articles and pictures in the newsletter.
    Ask for help at the forum. Remember its free! So sign-in at the forum; become an active member and get the help & answers you need at the forum. Remember its fun & FREE!!
    The forum is at:

    Jackie 🙂

  56. Dan Williams says:


    I am in the planning stage still, but have Aurora HO slot cars to go with my trains. I have a piece of slot car track with an at grade train crossing. Makes racing interesting when you have to watch out for a coming train.

  57. Howard Maculsay says:

    Anyone have a source for sign making. Custom sizing signage on you layout using computer software would be the most flexible choice!

  58. Bud Backus says:

    A great group of pictures showing your new layout. A very nice start. Just one question. Is it really just to keep the 5 year old occupied. Best of railroading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *